The design and manufacturing of products is complex. The evolution of a product from design and development to manufacturing is rarely a straight line—change is inevitable, and often at a fast pace. Without a way to exchange information between design, development, and manufacturing teams in real-time, productivity and quality are bound to suffer.
A more strategic way of sharing actionable data across teams has emerged and is commonly referred to as a digital thread. Digital threads empower cross-functional teams with the right information, and they are solving for many challenges—including the complex orchestration that happens between product design, manufacturing design, and manufacturing processes.
PTC’s GM of PLM, Mark Lobo, and ESI’s Senior Director of Industry Strategy, Peter Larson, spoke about the digital thread for design and manufacturing at a partner event in September 2022. Below, read their expert opinions on how manufacturing and design teams can leverage the digital thread for increased efficiency, improved productivity, and lower costs.*
Product lifecycle management (PLM) enables teams across your organization to access the most up-to-date information throughout product development. As the “foundation for the digital thread,” PLM creates a real-time flow of information from design and development to manufacturing ensuring that everyone is on the same page throughout different stages of product development.
The digital thread begins with the engineering team, linking important, often interdependent, information that needs to be tracked throughout product development, such as requirements, certifications, and bills of materials (BOMs). This means that anyone involved in the product development process always knows they’re accessing the right information in real time.
Peter: On the idea of a continuous flow of digital information, can you please explain the PTC perspective of the digital thread?
Mark: Here at PTC, we believe a strong PLM foundation is critical for a product- and process-centric digital thread. It helps in making key engineering decisions that are then supported by manufacturing and operations. It's also helping to increase visibility between disciplines, including earlier collaboration and parallel tasks. It streamlines the transformation between the product design and the manufacturing planning, including various kinds of bills of material (BOM).
By consolidating information in a holistic digital product definition and making it available across product design and manufacturing teams, the digital thread improves workforce productivity, product quality, and cost savings.
A digital thread is necessary to understand the impact of a change in the product or manufacturing process quickly and confidently. This can be critical to the success of a new product development program.
Mark, cont.: [Digital thread] is increasing efficiency in creating a lot of these downstream deliverables. It's supporting unified change management that is happening in parallel between product and manufacturing engineering.”
When combined with quality management, PLM helps manufacturers deliver closed-loop design and concurrent manufacturing throughout the product development process.
Peter: Can you please explain why this digital thread to be introduced to the market later this year is important to our common ESI and PTC customers in digital manufacturing?
Mark: We partner with ESI to deliver unique combined customer value around what PTC calls concurrent manufacturing. That is, developing the manufacturing plans concurrently with the design engineer to speed up new product introduction and to reduce quality and production problems at preproduction launch and throughout regular production.
Smoother change management and better collaboration enabled by the digital thread also reduce product development costs. By identifying potential manufacturing issues earlier in the development process (rather than after a product has been created), development teams can avoid costly rework. With faster change management, they can implement the necessary design or process improvements with less impact on the project timing.
As a key feature of PLM, closed-loop feedback delivers root-cause analysis of product or process failure and performance data back to the design team to improve quality and manufacturing KPIs.
Peter: What other success factors can you see in delivering on the promise of the digital thread in the context of digital manufacturing?
Mark: It's really this closed-loop feedback that provides the value. In the case of concurrent manufacturing, our customers are addressing problems before they even reveal themselves in real life, saving time and the cost of redesigning products and processes.
The digital thread transforms new product development through a stream of real-time data that can be shared throughout your organization for improvements across productivity, efficiency, quality, and more. Learn how the digital thread can transform your processes by providing all required stakeholders with access to the real-time data they need, when they need it.
*Quotes have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
No matter your role, see how you can benefit from the digital thread.